ICAEW chart of the week: IMF Fiscal Monitor

Our chart this week finds that the UK is ranking highly in the IMF’s latest five-year forecasts for general government net debt.

Bar chart

General government net debt/GDP: 2029 forecast

Emerging and developing economies (green bars)
World (purple bar)
Advanced economies (blue bar)
UK (red bar)

Kazakhstan (green) 8%
Canada (blue) 13%
Saudi Arabia (green) 22%
Iran (green) 23%
Australia (blue) 24%
South Korea (blue) 29%
Türkiye (green) 30%
Indonesia (green) 37%
Germany (blue) 43%
Netherlands (blue) 43%
Nigeria (green) 47%
Mexico (green) 51%
Poland (green) 55%
Egypt (green) 56%
Pakistan (green) 61%
Brazil (green) 70%
World (purple) 79%
South Africa (green) 84%
Spain (blue) 92%
UK (red) 98%
France (blue) 107%
US (blue) 108%
Italy (blue) 136%
Japan (blue) 153%


18 Apr 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: IMF Fiscal Monitor: 17 Apr 2024.

©️ ICAEW 2024

The International Money Fund (IMF) released its latest IMF Fiscal Monitor on 17 April 2024, highlighting how public debts and deficits are higher than before the pandemic and public debts are expected to remain high. The IMF says: “Amid mounting debt, now is the time to bring back sustainable public finances”, commenting that as prospects for a global economic soft landing have improved, it is time for action to bring government finances back under control. 

Our chart this week illustrates how the UK is one of the ‘leading’ nations in government borrowing, with general government net debt projected by the IMF to reach 98% of GDP by 2029, compared with 92.5% in 2023. (Note: general government net debt is different to the public sector net debt measure used in the UK public finances – the latter includes the Bank of England and other public corporations.)

The chart illustrates how the major countries with the largest debt burdens tend to be advanced economies, with Spain (92% of GDP), the UK (98%), France (107%), US (108%), Italy (136%) and Japan (153%) having debt levels close to, or exceeding, the sizes of their economies.

Some countries are in much better fiscal positions, with Germany expected to bring its general government net debt down to 43% of GDP by 2029, while the Netherlands (43%), South Korea (29%), Australia (24%) and Canada (13%) also have relatively low levels of public debt compared with other advanced economies.

Emerging market ‘middle-income’ and ‘low-income’ developing countries often have much lower levels of public debt than advanced countries, often simply because it is more difficult for them to borrow to the same extent as well as not having the same scale of welfare provision as richer countries to finance. Examples include Kazakhstan (projected to have a general government debt of 8% of GDP in 2029), Saudi Arabia (22%), Iran (23%), Türkiye (30%) and Indonesia (37%). However, that does not stop some emerging and developing countries borrowing more, such as Nigeria (47%), Mexico (51%), Poland (55%), Egypt (56%), Pakistan (61%), Brazil (70%) and South Africa (84%).

Not shown in the chart are China and India for which no net debt numbers are available. The IMF projects them to have general government gross debt in 2029 of 110% and 78% of GDP respectively, indicating how their public debts have grown substantially in recent years. However, without knowing their levels of cash holdings it is less clear where they stand in the rankings.

Also not shown is Norway, the only country with negative general government net debt reported by the IMF. Norway’s general government net cash is projected to reach 139% of GDP in 2029, up from 99% in 2023.

As with all metrics, there are some issues in comparing the circumstances of individual countries. Many countries will also have investments, other public assets, or natural resource rights that are not netted off against debt, while many will also have other liabilities or financial commitments that aren’t counted within debt. For example, the UK has significant liabilities for unfunded public sector pensions as well as even larger financial commitments to the state pension, either of which, if included, would move the UK above the US in the rankings.

The IMF believes that as the world recovers from the pandemic and inflation is brought under control, it is important for countries to start tackling the deficits in the public finances and start bringing down the level of public debt. 

This may be difficult for countries such as the UK where significant pressures on the public finances mean public debt is expected to increase over the medium term rather than fall.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW publishes in-depth Fiscal Insight on the Spring Budget

Now that the dust has settled on last month’s Spring Budget, ICAEW has published a more detailed analysis on the implications for the public finances.

ICAEW’s Fiscal Insight on the Spring Budget 2024 provides an analysis of the key numbers, risks to the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, tax measures, forecast revisions since the 2023 Autumn Statement, the fiscal position in the 2024/25 Budget year, borrowing over the next five years, the calculation of underlying debt, the £1.2trn that HM Treasury needs to raise from debt investors, and our conclusions on what the numbers mean for the public finances.

Key points highlighted in the report include:

Headlines

  • Modest improvement in forecasts and small tax increases ‘pay for’ national insurance cut.
  • Headroom of £9bn against the Chancellor’s primary fiscal rule is tiny compared with risks.
  • End of low-cost borrowing is hampering investment in infrastructure and public services.
  • Weak economy, high debt, demographic challenges, underperforming public services.
  • No long-term fiscal strategy.

Key numbers

  • Tax and other receipts of £1,139bn in 2024/25, equivalent to £1,375 per person per month.
  • Public spending of £1,226bn in 2024/25, equivalent to £1,480 per person per month.
  • Deficit projected to fall by a quarter to £87bn in 2024/25 and gradually to £39bn in 2028/29.
  • Headline debt expected to reach £2.8trn by March 2025 and £3.0trn by March 2029.
  • Underlying debt/GDP forecast to increase from 88.8% to 93.2% and then fall to 92.9%.

Conclusions

  • Difficult choices on spending deferred until after the general election.
  • Post-election tax increases likely, irrespective of who wins the general election.
  • A badly designed fiscal rule driving poor decisions and unrealistic spending forecasts.
  • Predicted reduction in the deficit to below 2% of GDP by 2027/28 is unlikely to occur.
  • Further pre-election tax cuts could affect credibility with debt markets. 

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director for Public Sector and Taxation, is quoted in the Fiscal Insight as follows:

“The principal story of the Spring Budget has been how the Chancellor was able to find room for tax cuts while still meeting his fiscal targets to ‘bring down debt and the deficit’.

“This is a frustrating narrative as it misses the bigger picture of public finances that are on an unsustainable path, with little sign of a long-term fiscal strategy to address demographic change, growing balance sheet liabilities, underperforming public services, rising debt interest, or resilience against future economic shocks.

“Debt is high and projected to be even higher in five years’ time than it is today. ‘Headroom’ is tiny in context of trillions of pounds of tax receipts and public spending over the next five years and forecasts that don’t reflect government practice in freezing fuel duties nor likely spending increases from the now postponed Spending Review.

“And we have a fiscal target that discourages essential infrastructure investment while at the same time never needing to be achieved as it is rolled forward each year.

“All of our fiscal eggs are now in a basket labelled ‘hope’ [for economic growth].”

Fiscal Insight

Read the full Fiscal Insight report, which provides detailed analysis on the Spring Budget’s implications for the public finances.

For further coverage, including more detailed information about tax measures, visit ICAEW’s Spring Budget 2024 site by clicking here.

This article was written by Martin Wheatcroft FCA on behalf of ICAEW and was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Whole of Government liabilities

My chart for ICAEW this week looks at how liabilities in the UK’s public balance sheet have risen significantly over the five years to March 2022.

Column chart:

Whole of Government liabilities
ICAEW chart of the week

Employee pensions (blue)
Payables and provisions (purple)
Financial liabilities (orange)

31 Mar 2018: £2.1trn financial liabilities + £0.6trn payables and provisions + £1.9trn employee pensions = £4.6trn total

31 Mar 2019: £2.2trn + £0.5trn + £1.9trn = £4.6trn

31 Mar 2020: £2.2trn + £0.6trn + £2.2trn = £5.0trn

31 Mar 2021: £2.6trn + £0.6trn + £2.3trn = £5.5trn

31 Mar 2022: £2.9trn + £0.8trn + £2.6trn = £6.3trn


4 Apr 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: HM Treasury, 'Whole of Government Accounts 2017/18 to 2021/22'.

(c) ICAEW 2024.

HM Treasury published the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) 2021/22 on 26 March 2024, just under two years after the balance sheet date. This is a significant improvement from the 27 months it took to publish the 2020/21 edition, but is still a lot longer than the nine or 10 months HM Treasury is aiming for in the medium term, or the four months or less that it generally takes listed companies to publish their consolidated financial statements.

WGA are consolidated financial statements for more than 10,000 or so organisations in the UK public sector, including central government departments, devolved administrations, regional and local authorities, the Bank of England and other public corporations, government agencies, schools, hospitals, police and fire services, transport authorities and other public bodies. They are prepared in line with international generally accepted accounting practice – International Financial Reporting Standards – different to the statistical standards used by governments to report fiscal numbers in National Accounts.

My chart for ICAEW illustrates how the liability side of the balance sheet has grown over the five-year period, from £4.6trn on 31 March 2018 and 2019 to £5trn on 31 March 2020, £5.5trn on 31 March 2021 and £6.3trn on 31 March 2022.

This reflects how debt liabilities increased from £2.1trn to £2.9trn over that time, with huge sums borrowed in 2020/21 and 2021/22 during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The other big liability in the balance sheet is the net pension obligation for public sector employees, which was £1.9trn on 31 March 2018 but had risen to £2.6trn by 31 March 2022, with falling discount rates a key factor in that rise. The latter comprises liabilities of £2.5trn for unfunded pension schemes and net liabilities of £0.1trn (£0.5trn liabilities less £0.4trn in assets) for local government and other funded pension schemes.

The balance sheet does not include the much larger commitment to pay the state pension, which as a welfare benefit is accounted for when incurred.

Total liabilities of £6.3trn on 31 March 2022 are equivalent to £93,000 per person in the UK, comprising £43,000 in financial liabilities, £11,000 in payables and provisions, and £39,000 in for public sector employee pensions.

Not shown in the chart is the asset side of the balance sheet, with assets of £2.4trn on 31 March 2022 or £36,000 per person, comprising fixed assets of £1.4trn (£20,500 per person), investments of £0.5trn (£7,000), receivables and other of £0.2trn (£3,500) and cash and other financial assets of £0.3trn (£5,000). This results in an overall net liability position of £3.9trn or £57,000 per person on 31 March 2022. 

The good news is that HM Treasury is working hard to reduce the delays in producing the WGA, which means it shouldn’t be too long before we discover what is in the 31 March 2023 balance sheet. This is expected to show an improvement, as although the government has continued to borrow, pushing up financial liabilities, the net present value of pension obligations and provisions should fall significantly as discount rates have risen sharply since March 2022.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Fiscal deficit still too high for comfort

Only a small improvement in the year-to-date deficit of £107bn reported in the penultimate monthly public finance release for 2023/24 over the same period a year ago.

The monthly public sector finances for February 2024 released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday 21 March 2024 reported a provisional deficit for the month of £8bn, while at the same time revising the year-to-date deficit up by £2bn. This increased the cumulative deficit for the first 11 months of the financial year to £107bn, £5bn less than in the same period last year. 

The deficit for the first 11 months of 2023/24 is slightly ahead of the £114bn full-year estimate made by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) in its latest fiscal forecasts that accompanied the Spring Budget 2024 earlier this month.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director of Public Sector and Taxation, said: “The numbers for February saw the public finances return to deficit following January’s self-assessment-driven surplus, bringing the cumulative deficit to £107bn for the first 11 months of the financial year. This is a £5bn improvement on the same period last year, with lower cost of living support payments and lower interest on index-linked debt as inflation has fallen, but it is still higher than is comfortable.

“Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s aim to cut the deficit by a quarter to £87bn in the coming financial year will be challenging to achieve given much-higher-than-inflation rises to the state pension, benefits and the minimum wage, while pressure to find extra money for defence, local government and public services is only likely to grow as the general election approaches.”

Month of February 2024

The fiscal deficit of £8bn for the month was £3bn lower than in February 2023, but slightly higher than some predictions.

Taxes and other receipts amounted to £95bn, up 8% compared with the same month last year, while total managed expenditure was 4% higher at £103bn.

Public sector net debt as of 31 January 2024 was £2,659bn or 97.1% of GDP, £12bn higher than at the start of the month and £120bn higher than at the start of the financial year.

Eleven months to February 2024

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the first 11 months of the 2023/24 financial year to February 2024 was £107bn, £5bn less than the amount reported for the first 11 months of 2022/23. 

This reflected a year-to-date shortfall between tax and other receipts of £995bn and total managed expenditure of £1,102bn, each up 6% compared with the corresponding numbers for April 2022 to February 2023.

Inflation benefited tax receipts for the first 11 months compared with the same period in the previous year, with income tax up 11% to £249bn and VAT up 6% to £181bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 18% to £93bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023, while national insurance receipts were up by just 1% to £163bn as the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy in 2022/23 offset the effect of wage increases in the current financial year, in addition to the cut in employee national insurance implemented in January. Council tax receipts were up 6% to £39bn, but stamp duty on properties was down by 24% to £12bn, while the total for all other taxes was up by just 1% at £153bn as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 10% to £105bn, primarily driven by higher investment income and higher interest charged on student loans.

Total managed expenditure of £1,102bn in the 11 months to February 2024 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £935bn, interest of £114bn and net investment of £53bn, compared with £1,049bn in the same period in the previous year, comprising £893bn, £125bn and £31bn respectively.

The increase of £42bn or 5% in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £33bn increase in pension and other welfare benefits (including cost-of-living payments), £19bn in higher central government pay, and £11bn in additional central government procurement spending, less £18bn in lower subsidy payments (principally relating to energy support schemes) and £3bn in net other changes.

The fall in interest costs for the 11 months of £11bn or 9% to £114bn comprises a £23bn or 46% reduction to £27bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt as the rate of inflation fell, partially offset by a £12bn or 16% increase to £87bn from higher interest rates on variable-rate debt and new and refinanced fixed-rate debt.

The £22bn increase in net investment spending to £53bn in the first 11 months of the current financial year is distorted by a one-off credit of £10bn arising from changes in interest rates and repayment terms of student loans recorded in December 2022. Adjusting for that credit, the increase of £12bn reflects high construction cost inflation amongst other factors that saw a £16bn or 17% increase in gross investment to £112bn, less a £4bn or 7% increase in depreciation to £59bn.

Table:

Public sector finance trends: February 2024

11 months to Feb 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | 2023 | 2024
£bn

Receipts: 756 | 719 | 835 | 937 | 995
Expenditure: (721) | (906) | (836) | (893) | (935)
Interest: (53) | (40) | (71) | (125) | (114)
Net investment: (36) | (62) | (48) | (31) | (53)

Deficit: (54) | (289) | (120) | (112) | (107)

Other borrowing: 20 | (53) | (77) | (9) | (13)

Debt movement: (34) | (342) | (197) | (121) | (120)

Net debt: 1,811 | 2,157 | 2,349 | 2,502 | 2,659

Net debt / GDP: 84.5% | 97.4% | 96.0% | 94.8% | 97.1%
Screenshot

The cumulative deficit of £107bn for the first 11 months of the financial year is £5bn below the OBR’s November 2023 forecast of £112bn for the same period but slightly higher than it should be to be consistent with the updated £114bn full year estimate for 2023/24 in its March 2024 forecast.

The OBR’s March 2024 forecast predicts an £87bn deficit in the next financial year commencing in April (2024/25) a reduction of approximately a quarter compared with the current financial year.

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,659bn at the end of February 2024, equivalent to 97.1% of GDP.

This is an increase since the start of the financial year of £120bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the 11 months of £107bn plus an additional £13bn of borrowing to fund lending to students, businesses and others, net of loan repayments and working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £844bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,124bn more than the £535bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£668bn on 29 February 2024, comprising £1,596bn in non-financial assets and £1,062bn in non-liquid financial assets minus £2,659bn of net debt (£319bn liquid financial assets – £2,977bn public sector gross debt) and other liabilities of £667bn. This is a £65bn deterioration from the -£613bn reported for 31 March 2023.

Revisions

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the 10 months to January 2024 up by £2bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data, as well as revise the calculation of the public sector net debt to GDP ratio at 31 January 2024 from 96.5% to 96.8% as GDP estimates were updated in line with the latest OBR forecasts.

The ONS also revised its estimate for the deficit for the financial year to March 2023 (2022/23), down by £1bn to £128bn.

This article was written by Martin Wheatcroft FCA on behalf of ICAEW and was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Pre-Budget debt forecast

My chart for ICAEW this week looks ahead to the Spring Budget and asks how much headroom the Chancellor will have available for tax cuts or higher spending while still meeting his fiscal targets.

Pre-Budget debt forecast
ICAEW chart of the week

Step chart showing underlying debt to GDP ratio in year from 2022/23 to 2028/29 with steps showing the change between each year.

Legend:

Increase (purple)
Decrease (green)
Underlying debt/GDP (orange)

2022/23: 84.9% (very top of bar shown only)
+4.1% increase
2023/24: 89.0%
+2.6%
2024/25: 91.6%
+1.1%
2025/26: 92.7%
+0.5%
2026/27: 93.2%
- (flat)
2027/28: 93.2%
-0.4% decrease - with a box pointing to this bar stating 'Fiscal headroom £13bn'
2028/29: 92.8%


22 Feb 2024.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: OBR, 'Economic and Fiscal Outlook, Nov 2023'.

(c) ICAEW 2024

The Chancellor is currently getting ready for his Spring Budget on Wednesday 6 March 2024, with rumours, leaks and misinformation swirling around ahead of what will be a keenly watched event – quite probably the last fiscal event before the general election.

As our chart illustrates, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) at the time of the Autumn Statement last November projected that the ratio of underlying debt to GDP would increase in the current financial year (2023/24) and further over the first four years of the forecast period, before starting to fall in the final year (2028/29).

Underlying debt is defined as public sector net debt (PSND) excluding Bank of England liabilities (PSNDexBoE). This alternative metric avoids distortion in the headline measure of debt caused by £170bn of Term Funding Scheme loan receivables not netted against related Bank of England liabilities that will reduce PSND as these loans are repaid, even though net financial assets and liabilities are not changing.

The projected increases are +4.1% from 84.9% at March 2023 to 89.0% at the end of 2023/24, +2.6% to 91.6% in 2024/25, +1.1% to 92.7% in 2025/26 and +0.5% to 93.2% in 2026/27, before staying flat in 2027/28 and then falling -0.4% to 92.8% in March 2029. 

The fall in 2028/29 projected by the OBR in November provided the Chancellor with £13bn of fiscal headroom in the final year of the forecast. In theory this meant he could have planned to spend more, or cut taxes, by up to £13bn in 2028/29 and still met his primary fiscal target, which is for underlying debt/GDP to be declining in the final year of the fiscal forecast period.

Building such a relatively small amount of headroom into a forecast – less than four days of total government spending – is perhaps surprising given the high degree of uncertainty in predicting future receipts, spending and borrowing, not to mention GDP. These numbers can all move by tens of billions between forecasts, as the economic situation changes and policy and budgetary decisions are made. 

GDP can be especially variable, with the Office for National Statistics making frequent revisions to its estimates, sometimes many years later. Several commentators also believe the numbers for planned public spending from April 2025 onwards are unrealistic and that there will be a need to revise these numbers upwards in subsequent fiscal events.

Although there has been a modest boost to the public finances in the reported numbers for the first 10 months of the current financial year, underlying debt/GDP at January 2023 was 88.1%, on track to end the financial year at close to the 89.0% in the November OBR forecast.

The news that the UK had entered recession in the last quarter of 2023 will not have been positive for the Chancellor in his search for additional headroom but, despite this, it is believed that the forecasts will improve sufficiently to allow him some capacity to either increase the total amounts allocated to public spending, or announce tax cuts, while still keeping with his fiscal targets. Of these options, tax cuts are considered much more likely. 

Either way, underlying debt/GDP will be expected to be higher in five years’ time – potentially even higher than in previous forecasts. From a fiscal target perspective, what is important is whether the ratio is falling in the fifth year of the forecast period, not the overall change in the level between now and then.

For more information about the Spring Budget 2024 and ICAEW’s letters to the Chancellor and HM Treasury, click here.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Modest boost to public finances won’t stop taxes rising

Prior month revisions boost public finances despite worse than expected self assessment receipts, as a think tank says tax cuts in the Budget will be sandwiched between tax rises in the years before and after.

The monthly public sector finances for January 2024 reported a provisional surplus for the month of £17bn, slightly less than expected, while at the same time revising the year-to-date deficit down. 

The figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday, show a cumulative deficit for the first 10 months of the financial year to £97bn, £3bn less than in the same period last year. The year-to-date variance against the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s Autumn Statement forecast improved from £5bn last month to £9bn this month. 

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director for Public Sector and Taxation, said: “Lower self assessment tax receipts than expected in January were offset by revisions to numbers from previous months to improve the overall financial picture.

“This small improvement helps only a little with an extremely weak fiscal position facing the Chancellor as he approaches the Budget, with questions already being asked about whether existing plans to cut public spending in the near term are realistically achievable. Rumours that the Chancellor is thinking about further reductions in public spending to fund tax cuts will therefore need to be balanced with his ability to maintain credibility with debt markets.”

The Resolution Foundation reported that likely net tax cuts in the coming financial year of around £10bn are sandwiched between £20bn of tax rises that have already been implemented in the current financial year – including threshold freezes and the corporation tax rate rise from 19% to 25% – and £17bn in net tax rises that have been pre-announced up to 2027/28 (primarily from threshold freezes and stamp duty land tax).

The think tank’s pre-Budget analysis estimates that the cut in national insurance announced in November plus around £10bn in potential new tax cuts to be announced in the Budget would result in a net reduction in taxes of just under £10bn for 2024/25 after taking account of threshold freezes and other tax changes.

The Resolution Foundation analysis does not take account of the normal pattern that sees governments typically raise taxes in the first Budget after a general election, which is even more likely this time around given what many commentators believe are unrealistic spending assumptions for 2025/26 onwards. 

Month of January 2024

Self assessment tax receipts were lower than expected in January 2024, with the fiscal surplus of £17bn for the month coming in at £9bn better than last year but £2bn less than the OBR’s Autumn Statement projection.

Taxes and other receipts amounted to £120bn, up 4% compared with January 2023, while total managed expenditure was £103bn, down 5%.

Public sector net debt as of 31 January 2024 was £2,646bn or 96.5% of GDP, £41bn lower than 31 December but £107bn higher than at the start of the financial year.

Ten months to January 2024

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the first five sixths of the 2023/24 financial year to January 2024 was £97bn, £3bn less than the £100bn deficit reported for the first ten months of 2022/23. This reflected a year-to-date shortfall between tax and other receipts of £901bn and total managed expenditure of £998bn, up 6% and 5% compared with April 2022 to January 2023.

Inflation benefited tax receipts for the first 10 months compared with the same period in the previous year, with income tax up 11% to £224bn and VAT up 6% to £165bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 17% to £85bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023. 

Meanwhile,national insurance receipts were up by just 1% to £148bn as the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy in 2022/23 offset the effect of wage increases in the current financial year, as well as the cut in national insurance implemented in January. 

Council tax receipts were up 6% to £36bn, but stamp duty on properties was down by 25% to £11bn and the total for all other taxes was flat at £137bn as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 10% to £95bn, primarily driven by higher investment income and higher interest charged on student loans.

Total managed expenditure of £998bn in the ten months to January 2024 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £846bn, interest of £105bn and net investment of £47bn, compared with £949n in the same period in the previous year, comprising £810bn, £114bn and £25bn respectively.

The increase of £36bn or 4% in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £28bn increase in pension and other welfare benefits (including cost-of-living payments), £18bn in higher central government pay and £10bn in additional central government procurement spending, less £13bn in lower subsidy payments (principally relating to energy support schemes) and £7bn in net other changes.

The fall in interest costs for the ten months of £9bn or 8% to £105bn comprises a £23bn or 50% reduction to £23bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt as the rate of inflation fell, partially offset by a £14bn or 21% increase to £82bn from higher interest rates on variable-rate debt and new and refinanced fixed-rate debt.

The £21bn increase in net investment spending to £47bn in the first ten months of the current year is distorted by a one-off credit of £10bn arising from changes in interest rates and repayment terms of student loans recorded in December 2022. Adjusting for that credit, the increase of £12bn reflects high construction cost inflation amongst other factors that saw a £16bn or 19% increase in gross investment to £101bn, less a £4bn or 8% increase in depreciation to £54bn.

Public sector finance trends: January 2024

Table with fiscal numbers for the ten months to Jan 2020, Jan 2021, Jan 2022, Jan 2023 and Jan 2024, all in £bn.

Receipts: 685 | 647 | 754 | 849 | 901
Expenditure: (588) | (746) | (686) | (722) | (761)
Interest: (44) | (33) | (55) | (103) | (97)
Net investment: (26) | (51) | (35) | (16) | (37)
[subtotal] Deficit: (61) | (270) | (123) | (108) | (119)
Other borrowing: 3 | (67) | (85) | (8) | (27)
[total] Debt movement: (58) | (337) | (208) | (116) | (146)

Net debt: 1,835 | 2,152 | 2,360 | 2,497 | 2,686
Net debt / GDP: 84.8% | 98.7% | 97.9% | 95.8% | 97.7%

The cumulative deficit of £97bn for the first 10 months of the financial year is £9bn below the OBR’s November 2023 forecast of £106bn for that same period. The OBR is forecasting deficits of £6bn and £12bn in February and March to result in a full year forecast of £124bn, or £115bn if the £9bn forecast variance persists. 

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,646bn at the end of January 2024, equivalent to 96.5% of GDP.

The debt movement since the start of the financial year is £107bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the ten months of £97bn plus £10bn in net cash outflows to fund lending to students, businesses and others, net of loan repayments and working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £831bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,108bn more than the £538bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£677bn on 31 January 2024, comprising £1,584bn in non-financial assets and £1,047bn in non-liquid financial assets minus £2,646bn of net debt (£303bn liquid financial assets – £2,949bn public sector gross debt) and other liabilities of £662bn. This is a £62bn deterioration from the -£615bn reported for 31 March 2023.

Revisions

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the nine months to December 2023 down by £6bn from £119bn to £113bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data and the correction of errors in HMRC reporting, while the debt to GDP ratio at the end of December 2023 was revised up by 0.5 percentage points from 97.7% to 98.2% as GDP estimates were updated.

The ONS also revised its estimate for the deficit for the financial year to March 2023, down by £1bn to £129bn for 2022/23.

This article was written by Martin Wheatcroft FCA on behalf of ICAEW and it was originally published by ICAEW.

Public finances beat forecast amid tough economic landscape

Year-to-date deficit of £119bn is £5bn lower than latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecast – but is still £11bn worse than this time last year.

Public sector finances for December 2023, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday, reported a provisional deficit of £8bn – less than expected – while at the same time revising the year-to-date deficit down by £5bn. This brought the cumulative deficit for the first three-quarters of the financial year to £119bn, £11bn more than in the same nine-month period last year.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director for Public Sector and Taxation, comments: “Today’s numbers show a cumulative deficit of £119bn for the first three-quarters of the financial year, the fourth highest on record. This should be close to the total at the end of the tax year, as income from self-assessment tax receipts in January is likely to offset deficits in February and March. At £5bn less than the Office for Budget Responsibility’s latest forecast, the Chancellor will be pleased by this marginal improvement in fiscal headroom just when he needs it most.

“However, the Chancellor will still be concerned by the tough economic landscape, with disappointing retail sales data for the final quarter of 2023 and an unexpected rise in inflation last month, and what that might mean for the fiscal forecasts. He is under significant pressure to cut taxes ahead of the general election, but will be all too aware of the need for greater investment in public services and infrastructure if he is to be able to lay the foundations for economic growth in the next Parliament. The risk of local authorities going bust will also be on his mind as he seeks to generate positive economic vibes going into the general election campaign.”

Month of December 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the month of December 2023 was £8bn, made up of tax and other receipts of £89bn less total managed expenditure of £97bn, up 6% and down 3% respectively compared with December 2022. 

This was the lowest December deficit since 2019, principally because interest on Retail Prices Index-linked debt fell from £14bn in December 2022 to close to zero in December 2023.

Public sector net debt as at 31 December 2023 was £2,686bn or 97.7% of GDP, up £15bn during the month and £146bn higher than at the start of the financial year.

Nine months to December 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the first three quarters of the financial year to December 2023 was £119bn, £11bn more than the £108bn deficit reported for the first nine months of 2022/23. 

This reflected a year-to-date shortfall between tax and other receipts of £776bn and total managed expenditure of £895bn, both up 6% compared with April to December 2022.

Inflation benefitted tax receipts for the first nine months compared with the same period in the previous year, with income tax up 10% to £178bn and VAT up 7% to £150bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 18% to £76bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023, while national insurance receipts were up by just 1% to £132bn as the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy in 2022/23 offset the effect of wage increases in the current financial year. 

Council tax receipts were up 6% to £33bn, but stamp duty on properties was down by 27% to £10bn and the total for all other taxes was down by 3% to £112bn as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 11% to £84bn, primarily driven by higher investment income and higher interest receivable on student loans.

Total managed expenditure of £895bn in the nine months to December 2023 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £761bn, interest of £97bn and net investment of £37bn, compared with £841bn in the same period in the previous year, comprising £722bn, £103bn and £16bn respectively.

The increase of £39bn or 5% in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £24bn increase in pension and other welfare benefits (including cost-of-living payments), £15bn in higher central government pay and £8bn in additional central government procurement spending, less £6bn in lower subsidy payments (principally relating to energy support schemes) and £2bn in net other changes.

The fall in interest costs for the nine months of £6bn to £97bn comprises an £18bn or 39% fall to £28bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt from a lower rate of inflation, partially offset by a £12bn or 21% increase to £69bn for interest not linked to inflation from higher interest rates.

The £21bn increase in net investment spending to £37bn in the first nine months of the current year is distorted by a one-off credit of £10bn arising from changes in interest rates and repayment terms of student loans recorded in December 2022. Adjusting for that credit, the increase of £11bn or 42% reflects high construction cost inflation, among other factors, which saw a £14bn or 20% increase in gross investment to £85bn, less a £3bn or 7% increase in depreciation to £48bn.

Public sector finance trends: December 2023

Table showing fiscal numbers for the nine months to Dec 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Receipts: 597 | 560 | 653 | 733 | 776
Expenditure: (588) | (746) | (686) | (722) | (761)
Interest: (44) | (33) | (55) | (103) | (97)
Net investment: (26) | (51) | (35) | (16) | (37)
[subtotal] Deficit: (61) | (270) | (123) | (108) | (119)
Other borrowing: 3 | (67) | (85) | (8) | (27)
[total] Debt movement: (58) | (337) | (208) | (116) | (146)

Net debt: 1,835 | 2,152 | 2,360 | 2,497 | 2,686
Net debt / GDP: 84.8% | 98.7% | 97.9% | 95.8% | 97.7%

The cumulative deficit of £119bn for the first three-quarters of the financial year is £5bn below the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s November 2023 forecast of £124bn for the nine months to December 2023. The OBR is also forecasting a full year forecast of £124bn as it expects self-assessment tax receipts in January to offset projected deficits in February and March 2024. 

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,686bn at the end of December 2023, equivalent to 97.7% of GDP.

The debt movement since the start of the financial year is £146bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the nine months of £119bn plus £27bn in net cash outflows to fund lending to students, businesses and others, net of loan repayments and working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £871bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,330bn more than the £538bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£715bn on 31 December 2023, comprising £1,584bn in non-financial assets and £1,049bn in non-liquid financial assets minus £2,686bn of net debt (£296bn liquid financial assets – £2,982bn public sector gross debt) and other liabilities of £662bn. This is a £100bn deterioration from the -£615bn reported for 31 March 2023.

Revisions

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the eight months to November 2023 down by £5bn from £116bn to £111bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data, while the debt to GDP ratio at the end of November 2023 was revised down by 0.1 percentage points from 97.5% to 97.4%.

The ONS also revised its estimate for the deficit for the financial year to March 2023, down by £1bn to £130bn for 2022/23.

This article was written by Martin Wheatcroft FCA on behalf of ICAEW and it was originally published by ICAEW.

Gap between public sector income and spending reaches £116bn

Latest public sector finance numbers reveal a challenging fiscal backdrop for both government and opposition ahead of a general election.

The monthly public sector finances for November 2023 released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday 21 December 2023 reported a provisional deficit for the month of £14bn and revised the year-to-date deficit up by £4bn, bringing the cumulative deficit for the first two-thirds of the financial year to £116bn, £24bn more than in the same eight-month period last year.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, ICAEW Director for Public Sector and Taxation, said: “These numbers confirm that the government’s financial difficulties are continuing to mount, with the shortfall between income and public spending reaching an unsustainable £116bn for the first two-thirds of the financial year, surpassing the £100bn milestone and providing a challenging fiscal backdrop for both the government and the opposition ahead of a general election.

“While the Prime Minister and the Chancellor continue to search for cost savings to free up capacity for further pre-election tax cuts, the opposition will be concerned about the fiscal legacy it would inherit if it were to take power. 

“The deteriorating state of the UK’s public services is a big concern for all politicians given that it implies a need for substantial tax rises after the general election, irrespective of who wins.”

Month of November 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the month of November 2023 was £14bn, made up of tax and other receipts of £86bn less total managed expenditure of £100bn, up 5% and 3% respectively compared with November 2022. 

This was the fourth highest November deficit on record since monthly records began in 1997, following monthly deficits of £15bn, £22bn and £15bn in November 2010, 2020, and 2022 respectively.

Public sector net debt as of 30 November 2023 was £2,671bn or 97.5% of GDP, up £30bn during the month and £132bn higher than at the start of the financial year.

Table titled 'Public sector finance trends: November 2023'

Eight months to Nov 2019, Nov 2020, Nov 2021, Nov 2022 and Nov 2023 respectively.

£bn except where stated.

Receipts:  530, 491, 574, 648, 682
Expenditure: (522), (661), (610), (635), (676)
Interest: (41), (30), (46), (83), (90)
Net investment: (22), (46), (31), (22), (32)
Subtotal line
Deficit: (55), (246), (113), (92), (116)
Other borrowing: 5, (67), (83), (4), (15)
Total line above
Debt movement: (50), (313), (196), (96), (131)
Total line below

Net debt: £1,827bn, £2,128bn, £2,348bn, £2,477bn, £2,671bn

Net debt / GDP: 83.4%, 99.1%, 98.5%, 95.7%, 97.5%.

Eight months to November 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the first two thirds of the financial year to November 2023 was £116bn, £24bn more than the £92bn deficit reported for the first eight months of 2022/23. This reflected a year-to-date shortfall between tax and other receipts of £682bn and total managed expenditure of £798bn, up 5% and 8% respectively compared with April to November 2022.

Inflation benefited tax receipts for the first eight months compared with the same period in the previous year, with income tax up 10% to £156bn and VAT up 8% to £134bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 10% to £62bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023, while national insurance receipts were down by 3% to £114bn because of the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy last year. Stamp duty on properties was down by 27% to £9bn and the total for all other taxes was up just 3% to £132bn, much less than inflation, as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 11% to £75bn, primarily driven by higher investment income.

Total managed expenditure of £798bn in the eight months to November 2023 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £676bn, up £41bn or 6% over the same period in the previous year, interest of £90bn, up £7bn or 8%, and net investment of £32bn, up £10bn or 45%.

The increase of £41bn in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £21bn increase in pension and other welfare benefits (including cost-of-living payments), £14bn in higher central government pay and £7bn in additional central government procurement spending, less £1bn in net other changes.

The rise in interest costs for the eight months of £7bn to £90bn comprises a £20bn or 43% increase to £67bn for interest not linked to inflation as the Bank of England base rate rose, partially offset by an £13bn or 37% fall to £23bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt from lower inflation than last year.

The £10bn increase in net investment spending to £32bn in the first eight months of the current year reflects high construction cost inflation amongst other factors that saw a £13bn or 21% increase in gross investment to £75bn, less a £3bn or 8% increase in depreciation to £43bn. 

The cumulative deficit of £116bn for the first two-thirds of the financial year is £8bn below the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s official forecast of £124bn for the full financial year as compiled in November 2023 for the Autumn Statement. The deficit for the last third of the financial year is normally much smaller than for the first two-thirds because of self assessment tax returns arriving in January that boost tax receipts.

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,671bn at the end of November 2023, equivalent to 97.5% of GDP.

The debt movement since the start of the financial year was £131bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the eight months of £116bn plus £15bn in net cash outflows to fund lending to students, businesses and others net of loan repayments and working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £856bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,133bn more than the £538bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£715bn on 30 November 2023, comprising £1,565bn in non-financial assets and £1,054bn in non-liquid financial assets minus £2,671bn of net debt (£303bn liquid financial assets – £2,974bn public sector gross debt) and other liabilities of £663bn. This is a £100bn deterioration from the -£615bn reported for 31 March 2023.

Revisions

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the seven months to October 2023 up by £4bn from £98bn to £102bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data, while the debt to GDP ratio at the end of October 2023 was revised down by 1.2 percentage points from 97.8% to 96.6% as a consequence of updated estimates of GDP.

The ONS also revised up its estimates for the deficit for the financial years to March 2023 and 2022 respectively, by £3bn to £131bn for 2022/23 and by £2bn to £124bn for 2021/22.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: Exploding debt

My chart for ICAEW this week takes a look at how UK public debt has exploded since the financial crisis to more than quintuple from £0.6trn in March 2008 to a projected £3.1trn in March 2029.

Exploding debt

Step chart showing how UK public sector net has changed between March 2008 and the projected position in March 2029.

[debt bars shaded orange, changes shaded in purple]

March 2008: £0.6trn
Financial crisis: +£0.7trn
March 2012: £1.3trn
Austerity years: +£0.5trn
March 2020: £1.8trn
Pandemic / energy crisis: +£0.9trn
March 2024: £2.7trn

[bar colours shaded by 50% to indicate the following are projected numbers]

Latest plan: +£0.4trn
March 2029:  £3.1trn

30 Nov 2023.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.
Source: OBR, 'Public finances databank - Nov 2023'.

As illustrated by our chart this week, the sums borrowed by the government since the financial crisis of a decade and half ago have been truly astonishing. 

In March 2008, the official measure of net debt for the UK public sector was less than £0.6trn. During the financial crisis, government borrowing totalled £0.7trn over a four-year period, causing public sector net debt to more than double to £1.3bn in March 2012. 

The eight austerity years saw government cut spending on public services to a significant degree but still borrow a further £0.5trn to see net debt reach £1.8trn in March 2020 – arguably not mending the roof while the sun was shining. This was then followed by an exceptional amount of borrowing during four years of pandemic and energy crisis (including the current financial year) that is expected to see net debt increase by a total of £0.9trn to reach £2.7trn in March 2024.

The Autumn Statement 2023 on Wednesday 22 November saw the Chancellor set out his latest plan for the UK public finances over the next five financial years. This includes a further £0.4trn of borrowing, with public sector net debt projected to amount to £3.1trn in March 2029 – more than quintuple the net amount owed by the UK state 21 years earlier in March 2008.

This assumes that the government can stick to its borrowing plans – many commentators have suggested that planned cuts in spending on public services are unrealistic, meaning more borrowing if taxes are not to rise.

The £2.5trn increase in debt between 2008 and 2029 comprises £2.2trn in borrowing to fund 21 years of deficits (the annual shortfall between receipts and spending) and £0.3trn in other borrowing to fund government lending (such as student loans) and working capital requirements.

As a share of the economy, the increase is less dramatic but still significant – rising from a net debt to GDP ratio of 35.6% in March 2008, to 74.3% in March 2012, to 85.2% in March 2020, to an anticipated 97.9% in March 2024. However, the good news is that net debt / GDP is expected to fall to 94.1% in March 2029 as inflation and economic growth offset the additional borrowing.

The worry for this (or any alternative) government is that while borrowing levels in the OBR’s forecast spreadsheet for the next five years appear manageable and are (just) within the current fiscal rules, the numbers assume that we don’t enter another recession or other economic crisis in that time. Otherwise, we could see debt exploding again.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

Public sector net debt hits an unprecedented £2.6trn

Monthly public sector finances for October saw spending continue to exceed receipts by a large margin, even if by less than was predicted earlier in the year.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the month public sector finances for October on Tuesday 21 November 2023. It reported a provisional deficit for the month of October of £15bn, bringing the cumulative deficit for the first seven months of the year to £98bn, £22bn more than in the same period last year.

Alison Ring OBE FCA, Public Sector and Taxation Director for ICAEW, said: “Although it is positive that the cumulative deficit to October of £98bn is less than the £115bn predicted by the OBR, cash going out continues to exceed cash coming in by a very large margin. Public sector net debt has now exceeded £2.6 trillion for the first time, which is a staggering new record.  

“Tomorrow’s Autumn Statement will see the OBR revise and roll forward its forecast, giving the Chancellor so-called headroom to cut taxes or increase spending. But in reality there is no headroom when the public finances continue to be on an unsustainable path without a long-term fiscal strategy to fix them.”

Month of October 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the month of October 2023 was £15bn, made up of tax and other receipts of £85bn less total managed expenditure of £100bn, up 3% and 6% respectively compared with October 2022. 

This was the second highest October deficit on record since monthly records began in 1993, following a monthly deficit of £18bn in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Public sector net debt as of 31 October 2023 was £2,644bn or 97.8% of GDP, the first time it has exceeded £2.6trn – only eight months after it first reached £2.5trn.

Seven months to October 2023

The provisional shortfall in taxes and other receipts compared with total managed expenditure for the seven months to October 2023 was £98bn, £22bn more than the £76bn deficit reported for the first seven months of 2022/23. This reflected a widening gap between tax and other receipts for the seven months of £595bn and total managed expenditure of £693bn, up 5% and 8% respectively compared with April to October 2022.

Inflation benefited tax receipts for the first seven months compared with the first half of the previous year, with income tax up 10% to £137bn and VAT up 9% to £117bn. Corporation tax receipts were up 12% to £55bn, partly reflecting the increase in the corporation tax rate from 19% to 25% from 1 April 2023, while national insurance receipts were down by 4% to £99bn because of the abolition of the short-lived health and social care levy last year. Stamp duty on properties was down by 27% to £8bn and the total for all other taxes was up just 3% to £115bn, much less than inflation as economic activity slowed. Non-tax receipts were up 10% to £63bn, primarily driven by higher investment income.

Total managed expenditure of £693bn in the seven months to October 2023 can be analysed between current expenditure excluding interest of £587bn, up £39bn or 7% over the same period in the previous year, interest of £76bn, up £4bn or 5%, and net investment of £30bn, up £9bn or 44%.

The increase of £39bn in current expenditure excluding interest was driven by a £20bn increase in pension and other welfare (including cost-of-living payments), £12bn in higher central government pay, £6bn in additional central government procurement spending, plus £1bn in net other changes.

The rise in interest costs for the seven months of £4bn to £76bn comprises a £18bn or 53% increase to £52bn for interest not linked to inflation as the Bank of England base rate rose, mostly offset by an £14bn or 37% fall to £24bn for interest accrued on index-linked debt from lower inflation than last year.The £9bn increase in net investment spending to £30bn in the first seven months of the current year reflects high construction cost inflation amongst other factors that saw a £11bn or 17% increase in gross investment to £65bn, less a £2bn or 6% increase in depreciation to £35bn. 

Public sector finance trends: October 2023

Table showing receipts, expenditure, interest, net investment, deficit, other borrowing and debt movement for the seven months to October 2023 plus net debt and net debt / GDP at 31 October 2023.

Receipts: £466bn (Oct 2019), £425bn (Oct 2020), £500bn (Oct 2021), £565bn (Oct 2022), £595bn (Oct 2023)
Expenditure: (£457bn), (£582bn), (£536bn), (£548bn), (£587bn)
Interest: (£38bn), (£26bn), (£41bn), (£72bn), (£76bn)
Net investment: (£20bn), (£42bn), (£28bn), (£21bn), (£30bn)
[line above subtotal]
Deficit: (£49bn), (£225bn), (£105bn), (£76bn), (£98bn)
Other borrowing: £5bn, (£61bn), (£61bn), £5bn, (£7bn)
[line above total]
Debt movement:  (£44bn), (£286bn), (£166bn), (£71bn), (£105bn)
[line below total]

Net debt: £1,821bn, £2,101bn, £2,319bn, £2,454bn, £2,644bn.
Net debt / GDP: 82.1%, 99.3%, 97.5%, 95.5%, 97.8%

The cumulative deficit of £98bn is £17bn lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s official forecast of £115bn for the first seven months of 2023/24 as compiled in March 2023. The OBR is expected to revise its forecast for the full year deficit down from £132bn in tomorrow’s Autumn Statement, but it is still on track to be more than double the £50bn projection for 2023/24 set out in the official forecast from a year earlier (March 2022). 

Balance sheet metrics

Public sector net debt was £2,644bn at the end of October 2023, equivalent to 97.8% of GDP.

The debt movement since the start of the financial year was £105bn, comprising borrowing to fund the deficit for the seven months of £98bn plus £7bn in net cash outflows to fund lending to students, businesses and others net of loan repayments together with working capital movements.

Public sector net debt is £829bn more than the £1,815bn reported for 31 March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and £2,106bn more than the £538bn number as of 31 March 2007 before the financial crisis, reflecting the huge sums borrowed over the last couple of decades.

Public sector net worth, the new balance sheet metric launched by the ONS this year, was -£716bn on 31 October 2023, comprising £1,565bn in non-financial assets, £1,029bn in non-liquid financial assets, £2,644bn of net debt (£305bn in liquid financial assets less public sector gross debt of £2,949bn) and other liabilities of £666bn. This is a £102bn deterioration from the -£614bn reported for 31 March 2023.

Revisions

Caution is needed with respect to the numbers published by the ONS, which are expected to be repeatedly revised as estimates are refined and gaps in the underlying data are filled. 

The latest release saw the ONS revise the reported deficit for the six months to September 2023 up by £1.7bn as estimates of tax receipts and expenditure were updated for better data, while the debt to GDP ratio at the end of September 2023 was revised down by 1.4 percentage points from 97.8% to 96.4% as a consequence of updated estimates of GDP.

This article was originally published by ICAEW.